Thursday, May 18, 2023

Rising. Falling. Choosing.

I have a friend who's a semiotician. 

A friend who's written a book on semiotics. 

A friend for whose book I wrote a back-cover blurb. 

I'm not one-hundred percent sure most people know what semiotics are--at least, it seems to me, most people in advertising don't.

Back in the day (whatever that means) even if we didn't know the word, I think we understood the concept of semiotics. When people at Ogilvy used to say, 'every point of contact must contribute to the brand,' that's a way of saying you believe in both the form of brand communication and the content of brand communications. What we say and how we say it. What we say, of course. How we treat people as well.

Semiotics is, after all, the language of signs. 

For instance, there's no intrinsic reason why a doctor wears a white lab coat around her office. But she does--and the semiotics of her outfit say she is a well-trained, scientific professional. In the ad business, wearing ripped jeans and an ironic t-shirt and a $400 pair of canvas sneakers and being adorned with untold numbers of tattoos is meant to tell the world how creative we are. 

Amid the cacophony about AI, I must say I worry about the ad business and the semiotics of using AI to create work--and our industry's embrace of dull, repetitious and sloppy work in general.

To me, shitty work is more than just a wasted opportunity to communicate. 

Shitty work is a semiotic communication that says, 'we don't care enough about you to make the messages we send your way tasteful, intelligent, warm or witty.' Semiotically, when we do work that isn't made with care we are saying to the viewers of that work that we don't care about you.

That 'not caring' is not a matter of made-by-AI vs. made-by-low-wage-workers-who-don't-know-better-in-factory-like-conditions-for-low-and-declining-wages.

It's bigger than that.

It's a matter of showing you care vs. showing you don't care.

If you, the advertising creator, or you, the commissioner and approver of ads believe that people high-five when they share nachos, will be amused by Doug and the LiMu emu (after the 1000th showing) or will break into song and/or dance at the drop of a pharmaceutical, you are, I believe, semiotically displaying disdain for real life and real people.

I think you are showing hatred for your customer and your craft and that's no way to sell anything.

When I see commercials like this--commercials as divorced from any reality on earth as anything an acid-tripping Disney imagineer ever derived, I don't really care. I don't really care that there's no one element of the spot that has even the most tangential connection to any reality I've ever seen.

I don't care if a machine made it pretending to have humanity in its code, or if a human made it because that human has the cogged-up heart of a machine.

Here's my point.

In commercials, in customer-service, in communications, care takes actual caring. 

It takes an expenditure of money and kindness and empathy or it's nothing more than yet another of the all-too-frequent assaults on our humanity that all of us face dozens of times a day. 

Companies have to decide. 

As does the advertising industry. 

Are people just seams of resources to be treated like a vein of coal. Are we an extractive industry that will eventually run out of material to extract from our customers. Or are we a caring and therefore sustaining industry that serves, builds and helps people?

It's not the rise of the robots that frightens me.

It's the rise of all those corporatists who have forgotten that humans matter.

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